Editor’s note: Ted Sherman will turn 90 on Aug. 8. He’s a U.S. Navy vet who served in World War II and the Korean War, and after a lifetime of writing for other people, he’s now sharing his opinions with the world at large for various publications and on his blog 90 Is The New Black. It’s a daily rant on current news, sports, health, travel, careers, entertainment, sports, relationships and, of course, problems of advanced age.
Where can you get a job that gives you the chance to see and gab with Groucho Marx and other classic movie legends just about every day? After Navy service in the Korean War in 1953, I was hired to work in one of the most luxurious towns in America.
I became a $75-a-week reporter for the Beverly Hills Citizen, now long out of print. It had been a twice-a-week free morning newspaper. After it was purchased that year by Will Rogers Jr., son of the famed humorist, it became a daily and required paid subscriptions.
One of my first tasks at the newspaper, in addition to writing local news stories, was to visit Beverly Hills families to recruit pre-teen paper delivery boys. (In 1953, no girls.) Each would solicit and collect $30 a month from subscribers and earn $10 in pay. Many of my recruiting visits were to the city’s most expensive mansions. Back then, they sold for a lofty half-million dollars. Today, they list for $10 million or more. It was a bit intimidating as I was ushered into living rooms by a uniformed butler.
When I spoke with parents who were famed producers, actors and directors, I had to be convincing. My pitch was that the experience would give their boys real responsibilities and valuable learning for later business careers. It worked, and we soon had a 100-member corps of delivery boys. Of course, being Beverly Hills, some of them delivered their newspapers from the backseats of family limos. Others found kids from more modest Los Angeles homes and paid them $10 or more a month to do the deliveries.
One benefit of working for the newspaper was that I always could expect to bump into famous people in Beverly Hills restaurants and stores. I recall many, including James Stewart, Yul Brynner, Jack Benny, Charlton Heston, Lana Turner, Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball. And best of all, Groucho Marx.
Groucho’s house was just a short walk from the newspaper building, and he stopped by the front office several mornings a week to check on the news and talk with us. Far from the exaggerated slapstick character he portrayed on the screen, he was a kindly father figure. As we became better acquainted, he asked about my Korean War service that had just ended. I told him it was with a naval reserve carrier air group that had been activated. We spent six months’ deployment in Korea and 18 months at a naval air station before returning to civilian life.
It wasn’t long before I was griping to him that the $75-a-week salary at the newspaper was less than my Navy pay had been. Groucho then gave me advice I’ve followed for the next 40 career years. He told of early experiences with his brothers, and how they struggled with low-pay jobs to make their way out of poverty. He said the best thing about being unhappy with a lousy job is that if you keep searching long and hard enough, you know whatever comes along will have to be a better one. It worked for me, and I eventually achieved a 30-year management career with a major insurance company.
After all the decades since, I still treasure my conversations with Groucho.
Ted Sherman is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.